Matthew Barney's 2005 film-cum-performance-piece, Drawing Restraint 9 (DR9), portrays a budding romance between two individuals he terms the “Occidental Guests,” played by Barney and his real-life partner, the singer Björk, aboard a Japanese whaling ship. In the film's climactic scene, the Guests, dressed in imaginatively construed Japanese wedding dress, engage in a bloody orgy of violence and cannibalism that reveals they are both part whale. In addition to the costumes of seaweed, fur, and shell worn in this scene, DR9 prominently features Barney's creative reinterpretations of traditional Japanese ritual and material culture, including tea ceremony, festivals, and pearl divers, while providing an opaque statement on the issue of Japanese whaling. Clocking in at two hours and fifteen minutes, yet containing only a scant few lines of dialogue, the film has received an uneven and confused reception by art and film critics alike. Critics familiar with Barney's work tend to focus on the artistry of his characteristically rich visual images in DR9, rather than deciphering and contextualizing his suggestions about Japanese “tradition” or the historical relationship between Japan and the West, especially the United States. This review essay attempts to understand Barney vis-à-vis a lineage of Western artists and scholars who have interpreted Japan in diverse ways. It asks whether and how Barney is echoing the Orientalist tendencies of earlier artists and whether and how globalization and the accompanying increase in borderless cultural flows have influenced Western hegemony in transnational artistic circles.
Nancy Stalker; Strange Nuptials: Matthew Barney's Japan in Drawing Restraint 9. positions 1 November 2012; 20 (4): 1191–1213. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-1717708
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